Sewing on Trucks, Cycling with Sewing Machines

Sewing on Trucks, Cycling with Sewing Machines

This past week, I got a call to tailor and do some fittings for my friend Matthew, who is the Costume Designer for TBS’s Search Party. I love working for Matthew. He’s sweet and fun and his design choices are quirky, a lovely mix of vintage and high end with a bit of funk blended in.

Search Party doesn’t have the budget for a full time tailor, so Matthew only calls me in for days when he’s doing a lot of fittings or he has a pile of alterations that he needs completed for the next couple weeks of filming.

Day playing

Day playing, which is what we in the film business call working for a day or two on a show when extra help is needed, can be an enjoyable experience (it can also be annoying but I try my best to avoid those types of day playing gigs). Search Party is pretty much always a positive experience, mainly because of Matthew and the people he has working for him.

So, I was happy to get the call, even though it involved going all the way to Red Hook (a neighborhood in Brooklyn sadly lacking in convenient public transportation access) and sewing on a cramped Wardrobe Truck.

The inadequate subway connection was easily solvable: I’d ride my bike just as I do most places in the city, except that I needed to bring a sewing machine and basic sewing supplies with me. Tailor day playing assignments almost always involve dragging your machine and kit through the streets, and usually not on a bicycle.

I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack.

I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack.

But, a few months ago, I received an unexpected gift from REI. I’d ordered a tent for some planned bike packing adventures but, instead, received a backpack (definitely not a tent). REI costumer service was very helpful when I called, said they’d send the tent straight away and would email me a pre-paid return label to ship the backpack back (back…). About twenty minutes after I hung up, they called back to say never mind, keep the backpack for free.

I don’t know what made me try it, but a couple weeks after that, I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack. Brilliant! Here are some photos. If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

I packed a few other things in the backpack with the machine (there was still more space!) – shoulder pads, interfacing, and lining scraps, a bag of thread, and some other not very heavy notions. The rest of my supplies, the scissors and more threads and gallon bag of elastics and tapes, I packed into my Revelate Seat Bag that I purchased from my favorite local bike shop. And I was good to go, albeit not very quickly (cause all that gear was a bit heavy)…

The lion, the witch and the Wardrobe truck

Sewing in small spaces on a Wardrobe truck where a whole crew of other people are also trying to do their jobs presents its own set of challenges. Working on the Search Party truck even more so as they use the dreaded split Wardrobe/Hair/Makeup style of 18-wheeler film truck. Most productions have separate trucks for Wardrobe and Hair/Makeup and twice as much space but smaller productions who are trying to save money go with the split trucks. What this means is that there is even less space than normal.

I set up my machine on the front corner, the sink and washer/dryer on my right and the busy Wardrobe Supervisor and her computer on my left. A few feet away, one of the customers steamed and ironed the clothes for the next day and, in the back of the truck Matthew and his assistant did fittings with various cast members. Occasionally, the set costumer was also on the truck gathering things for the next scene, as well as the shopper dropping off or picking up items.

High chair

I had a chair that was too high for the counter. I’d have to crouch in order to sew while sitting in it. Below the counter were drawers so there was no convenient place to put the foot pedal. I ended up standing up to sew, my leg turned out to the right to operate the pedal from a side-saddle angle. The foot kept getting stuck under the lip of the bottom drawer so that the machine would continue to sew even after I’d taken my foot off. I had about two inches of empty space to the left of my machine before the supervisor’s notebooks and computer and the cord from the iron kept falling (along with a bunch of my pins) into the sink to my right. I had to shift position slightly every time someone needed to fill or empty the washer and dryer.

But, it was still a wonderfully pleasant work-day. Because we were all in good spirits and we all worked together, happily jockeying for space, seamlessly adapting to each other’s needs, laughing when we all seemed to need to occupy the same twelve inches of space at the same time, all of us just getting our jobs done.

Things don’t always work this well on a crowded wardrobe truck. Sometimes people forget that everyone’s jobs are important and necessary to the project. Sometimes people are cranky because of lack of sleep, or stress, or just because it’s their nature. But it doesn’t have to be that way and, if you ask me, it shouldn’t. Making TV does not, after all, have anything to do with curing cancer or launching rocket ships (sometimes people forget that!).

One of the most wonderful things is a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. Its also a pretty good way of getting things done! I highly recommend it. 🙂

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust. I’ve been to the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and stood in the middle of the desert in Jordan. I’ve wandered down into the depths of a pyramid in Giza and hiked to the top of Mount Sinai.

Today, I’m preparing for a cycling trip to the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan – during which we’re going to visit the local school and women’s sewing centre in Chirah (a vocational training project supported by the Red Spokes LVCF charity). You can read more about the center here. Red Spokes is also the company that’s organizing the cycling tour I’m about to embark on. If you happen to be interested in that, you can read about it here.

I’m super excited about both the cycling part and getting to visit the sewing center and will definitely try and spend some time communicating with the women there and learning about their lives and what sewing means to them.

Right now though, I’m exhausted after finally managing to (I think) get my bike packed up so it’ll survive both the TSA and the baggage handlers. (Wish me, or rather, my bike, luck).

Wrestling with my bicycle and bike bag this morning got me thinking about flying with sewing machines.

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

When sewing machines fly

When sewing machines fly

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve flown with a machine in tow. I think the last time I did was almost 8 years ago – and security measures weren’t as strict as they are now. I had the machine packed in a rolling suitcase and I recall that I gate checked it with JetBlue. You can also buy great sewing machine specific bags to transport your machine: http://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/trolley-category.php

The important thing to remember though is to remove the needle and any other sharp tools if you’re going to bring as carry-on luggage.

A quick search on the TSA website does indeed confirm that you can bring a sewing machine in your carry on or checked bags.

The Sharp Objects List states that you can also bring knitting, crochet, and sewing needles and safety pins in your carry on but, scissors must be less than 4″ from the pivot point (like these):

TSA and contraband

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

Speaking of the TSA, they actually have a rather amusing Instagram account where they post pictures of confiscated items that people tried to bring on board airplanes as well as answer questions about whether or not specific items are allowed.

Travel tips

If you do happen to need to travel by air with your machine, here are a few tips:

  1. Take the lightest machine you own (only because it’ll be easier for you to carry through the airport. Most airlines don’t weight carry on bags). I know I talk about these Brother machines all the time but they really are incredibly lightweight and durable. And they sew well!
  2. Put your presser foot down on a piece of fabric and remove the needle. Make sure all your thread holders are folded or detracted if they’re foldable or retractable.
  3. Pack some foam or something else cushy around it in case it falls over on its side. I also like to put the machine inside some sort of plastic bag to protect it from water (just in case there’s a freak rain storm, or you drag it through a puddle or something is leaking somewhere).I’m a backpacker/hiker and bike commuter though so I pack everything into clear plastic drawstring bags. Because you just never know.If there’s extra or empty space in the bag or box with your machine, fill it up with something. Fabric, clothes, those air filled plastic pillows – whatever. The more secure a machine is in its case(or box) the less it’ll shift and bang around.
  4. If you happen to still have your machine’s original box and packing material, use that. You can tape the box up and either check it or carry it into the cabin with you. Be advised though, that if you’re taking it as a carry on, you’ll probably have to take it out of its box or case for security. So, bring a roll of packing tape with you so you can seal the box back up.
  5. Remember that the TSA officers are just doing their jobs and sometimes they have different interpretations of what that is or what items are allowed. I travel very often (mostly international) and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s to always, always be kind and respectful (even if you think the person you’re dealing with doesn’t know what they’re talking about or are not understanding you). I spent almost twenty minutes at the Cairo airport explaining to an officer that I had metal bike pedals, metal clips in my bike shoes and a bicycle seat in my bag. By the end of it, we were both laughing and we both said thank you (I like to think that later, over dinner, he told his buddies or family about the crazy white girl who just biked across Jordan that went through his security line).

Fly, my pretties, fly!

I know that airport security measures can be annoying and I truly wish that there wasn’t the need for them (either real or imagined) but I’ve found time and time again that a pleasant thank you and a smile makes things go a lot more smoothly (and faster!) 😉

And with that, I’m off to JFK Airport. Safe and happy travels to all.

The Deeper Side of Toy Sewing Machines

The Deeper Side of Toy Sewing Machines

I remember being a child in a store when my mom was deciding to buy another child a toy sewing machine. I was too young for it, making it what could’ve been a dangerous option for me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t jealous of the other child who would get the sewing machine!

Fast forward a couple of decades or so, and my brother asked me if a toy sewing machine he was thinking about buying would work. My response was something like, “No, they never do.”

Toys are for kids

In a world of game systems & electronics, toy sewing machines that may or may not work are still on the shelves.

In a world of game systems & electronics, toy sewing machines that may or may not work are still on the shelves.

This might be a misconception on my end of things in assuming that toy sewing machines will be, simply put, less than adequate. In fact, one or two of them probably do at least basically stitch together the small projects they come with. But it’s led to a question in my mind that I’d like to explore for a bit. That question is why sewing continues to be an intriguing prospect as the years roll by, to the point that in a world of game systems and electronics, toy sewing machines that may or may not work are still on the shelves. Even for adults, sewing can be seen as a throwback hobby, so why is it so appealing that a younger generation would still add a sewing machine onto their lists to Santa along with the latest Wii and the most impressive riding toy on the market?

Pass it on

Here’s a pass-it-on quality that goes along with sewing.

Here’s a pass-it-on quality that goes along with sewing.

Well, for one thing, there’s a pass-it-on quality that goes along with sewing, and as children, we were kind of prone to looking at what our parents were doing for inspiration. It’s no surprise this tradition passed on to today’s world if you think about things in that context. Our great-great grandparents may have needed to create their own clothes, blankets, etc. in a world that was very different than ours, and even when society changed enough to start negating that need through things like the division of labor, there were still probably little eyes looking up at the quilters and such who continued their crafts in spite of the changes, maybe out of genuine love of the endeavors. That generation could’ve kept the tradition going for another group of young eyes to latch on to, on and up to recent times when little eyes are looking at that little sewing machine that looks so much like the one at home.

Invaluable skills

Sure, you can pay a seamstress to sew the rip in your coat’s lining, but in the long run, being able to sew that lining yourself saves money.

Sure, you can pay a seamstress to sew the rip in your coat’s lining, but in the long run, being able to sew that lining yourself saves money.

It’s also practical! No matter who you are and what you do, you’re probably going to need something mended at some point in your life. Not only does this increase the odds of those little eyes seeing sewing in action, but it provides usefulness to the hobby that makes it a logical thing to learn. Sure, you can pay a seamstress to sew the rip in your coat’s lining, but in the long run, being able to sew that lining yourself saves money. I admit that most kids probably aren’t diving into the sewing world with money in mind, but being able to contribute with such a grown-up task could be appealing to them. Don’t believe me? Try baking a cake in a room full of kids and see how many offer to help!

A family that sews together stays together

Sewing, as it happens, has the added bonus of being so convenient that I can sew & watch my superhero movies at the same time!

Sewing, as it happens, has the added bonus of being so convenient that I can sew & watch my superhero movies at the same time!

Sewing, as it happens, has the added bonus of being so convenient that I can sew and watch my superhero movies at the same time! Because of this convenience factor, it can be an endeavor that comes with good memories and feelings for children. Think about it. If I were making a rag quilt, I could sit with my nieces while a cheesy cartoon played and fray the edges for the quilt. It’s a hobby that allows time for them, and that’s a detail that a child could easily appreciate. With those kinds of good feelings and that pleasant context, picking up a sewing interest isn’t that shocking!

A generational tradition

On the flipside, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles… We might appreciate the interest as well. Why? For one thing, it’s creative, which helps a child expand in imagination and think outside of the box. The little sewing enthusiast could construct a final product that really took time and effort, and that pride could be something that proves fulfilling enough to warm the nearby adult’s heart. Another appealing detail for the adults buying these toys and encouraging the interest is that sewing is a relatively safe activity for a child who’s reached an appropriate age. Clearly, you shouldn’t hand a three-year-old a sewing needle, but an older, more mature child would be able to dive into the hobby with little worry over injuries.

For child and parent then, this could be an easy interest to embrace! So, why was I confused about the continued existence of toy sewing machines again?!

Everyone needs an Arm Sometimes

Everyone needs an Arm Sometimes

I rarely use a free arm on a sewing machine, mainly because I sew most often on my industrial Juki straight stitch machine and it doesn’t have one. I sew sleeve and pant cuffs by either leaving the garment right side out and sewing with the wrong side to the top or vice versa (garment wrong side out and sewing with the right side to the top).

I sew most often on my industrial Juki straight stitch machine and it doesn’t have a free arm.

I sew most often on my industrial Juki straight stitch machine and it doesn’t have a free arm.

Most things are easily sewn this way. You basically put the needle and presser foot inside the pant leg or sleeve.

Something up my sleeve

This past week though, I needed to attach a nine and half inch sleeve extension to the top of a cuff – making a sweater look as if there was another layer underneath when in actuality there was only an extra sleeve poking out from the bottom.

I marked and pinned, tried going in from one way, then another but couldn’t get the needle to the right sewing position. The sleeve extension was too long and the existing cuff on the sweater I was attaching it too, far too bulky and heavy.

My little light weight Brother SC9500 was no help either as it doesn’t have a really skinny free arm.

My little light weight Brother SC9500 was no help either as it doesn’t have a really skinny free arm.

My little light weight Brother SC9500 was no help either as it doesn’t have a really skinny free arm.

A sewing machine free arm is the narrow platform you’re usually left with if you remove the flat bed attachment on a domestic machine.

It’s a Bernina Record 830 which is, along with the Bernina 930, one of the best domestic ‘portable’ machines ever made.

It’s a Bernina Record 830 which is, along with the Bernina 930, one of the best domestic ‘portable’ machines ever made.

After some struggling (and cursing), I remembered that my good old trusty heavy metal Bernina was under the cutting table. It’s a Bernina Record 830 which is, along with the Bernina 930, one of the best domestic ‘portable’ machines ever made.

Standing the test of time

The 830 was made in the 1970s and the 930 in the 1980s. Both machines are mechanical (no electronic ‘smart’ stitch settings) and will sew through pretty much anything. They’re also faster than most modern domestic machines. And the 830 has a nice skinny free arm.

The one thing it doesn’t have is extra ‘give’ in the presser foot – which allows you to get really big bulky things under it. In order to get my sweater cuff and extra sleeve under the foot I needed to exert a good amount of what my father always referred to as ‘elbow grease’.

But once under there, the old 830 happily sewed over all the lumpy bulk. Crisis averted.

Bernina reliability

Bernina is still making some great machines, many of them are electronic now.

But, if you ever see an 830 or a 930 at a garage sale, snatch it up. They make excellent all around machines and seem to be virtually indestructible. Mine has taken a dive off the tailgate of a wardrobe truck and it still works great (though I don’t necessarily recommend testing that theory).

My experience with the troublesome sweater reminded me that there is always a solution to a seemingly impossible task. Sometimes that solution only becomes clear after you’ve pretty much given up. I did indeed say out loud (to no one in particular as I’m pretty much always sewing alone in my little sunny corner) “I can’t get in there. I just can’t get in there.” Then, low and behold, I spotted the red plastic case that houses my Bernina and I knew everything was going to be ok.

This also reminds me of something I was told when I first started cycling up steep, long mountains. “Every climb has a gear. You just need to find it.” I wasn’t thoroughly convinced at first but, if history is to be believed, that is absolutely the case. I have yet to find a mountain I couldn’t climb.

There’s always a way. You just have to find it.

New Year, New Challenges: The Psychology of Sewing

New Year, New Challenges: The Psychology of Sewing

How many times do we seriously plan things, and within days or hours, our plans change. I used to think I prefer knowing what will happen ahead of time so I can grasp the idea, plan it to my specifications, and control the outcome. Not very many things happen that way.

So last time I wrote, I had a nice New Year’s Resolution list made up for myself. I was ready to learn new things, implement new creative expressions, and sew a rug made of scraps. That was a few days before New Year’s Day.

Now, the middle of January, about 2 days ago, I was able to sit and sew a project I have been thinking about. Sewing is so therapeutic, you forget where you are and the daily chores of life. But now, my Resolutions have been pretty much scrapped. Time changes things so quickly.

Turn that frown upside down

Now, I’m finding myself in a position to decide how to decorate a new home we are building. “Wonderful, you say! Congratulations!” Blushing but thankful, I tell you, “Thank you, but the downside is I’m losing my room for sewing.” For now, I have a countertop that wraps around half the room where I can cut, sew, press, lay out patterns, and holds my computer. Plus tons of shelves for fabric, ribbon, thread, and many other non-sewing related supplies. What will I do?

We determined that I will use the large guest room upstairs for my sewing projects, but it will be deemed a guest bedroom as well. So, gone are the days, of leaving my projects in different stages, and not worrying about things left out. I have to be neat and organized ie. (no thread on the floor) so if we should get company, (my daughter visits frequently) that room will be presentable. OMG, such pressure! I’m already stressed. I can’t even get away and be creative because my room has to be in picture perfect order and stay that way (much like the rest of the house by the way, as my in-laws will be living with us).

So, I need your help! I will explain later. I’m making a checklist of some things, I need to purchase if I am going to continue my psychological sewing retreat. At least I have until late July to decide.

Making a list – checking it twice

First is a desk. I like this one. Nice and neat!

See it here:

Fashion Sewing Cabinets of America 8300 Cloud 9

Or:

Sylvia Design Model 1520 Quilters Work Station

Then a rolling bag to store the sewing machine out of sight while my guest suite is being occupied.

Bluefig TB 23Travel Bag 23″ Julie

Also a box of Aerofil Incredible Threadable Quilt Box Maderia Thread so I can keep the thread bobbins and thread and neatly put away.

Then there’s the fabric and trims, buttons and numerous other collections. That worries me most. I would love to hear your suggestions on how to scale back and organize and still have the ability to retreat to my passion in my changing lifestyle. I hope all will not be lost even with a more spacious house and elder care ahead. One never knows! As for you, my advice is:

Keep sewing, it’s good for the soul! Until next time.

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient.

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient.

A subjective question, perhaps. In the cycling world, of which I am part, the number of bicycles is defined as x + 1 where x = the number of bikes you currently own. I suppose the same formula could be applied to sewing machine ownership. I’m continually fascinated by the scope and design of new machines and confess that, if I could, I would adopt one of virtually every machine I see.

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient. I, as I suspect most tailors do, have a small collection of machines that I consider my “go-to’s”, that I can’t imagine doing my job without.

1. Juki High Speed Single Needle Straight Lockstitch Industrial Sewing Machine

I have an old model of this machine, the DDL-555-4. The beauty of this machine is that it only does one thing: sew in a straight line. And it does it exceptionally well. Even my old model is smoother and more sensitive than many domestic machines. Five layers of denim or a single layer of chiffon emerge from the presser foot with no complaint and straight, even, stitches. I rarely even have to adjust the tension. And the Juki is fast. The newer models have a speed adjustment on the motors so if you want to start out a little slower you can.

 

Check out the current models, the DDL-8700 and the DDL-5550N and go test drive one if you can. I think you’ll be able to tell right away that it’s a machine that will quickly pay for itself.

2. Brother lightweight Portable Machine

My SC9500, which is similar to the CS-5055, is the most incredible inexpensive machine I’ve come across in my twenty some years of sewing. Not only is it lightweight enough to put in a tote bag and carry on your shoulder but it also sews like a champ. I use it most often for its pre programmed buttonholes and stretch stitching. In my experience, a lot of domestic machines produce less than ideal buttonholes. The Brother never falters: each buttonhole is perfect and akin in quality to those in manufactured clothing (where they use a machine that does nothing but buttonholes).

3. Bernina

Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina.

 

Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina. For many, their Bernina is their prime machine, the one they use most often. I’ve yet to find a model, or hear of one, that doesn’t work well. I have an old mechanical model, which is still made in the form of a 1008. The advantages of a mechanical sewing machine lie in its durability and ease of use. I keep my old school Bernina mechanical on the wardrobe truck of whatever show I’m currently working on. I’ve had the same one for twenty years and its never ever failed me – despite years of being knocked around and asked to do impossible things like sewing through three layers of glued leather in an inordinate short amount of time.

4. Reliable Blind Hem Machine

A good blind hemmer that doesn’t snag or pull and is easily adjusted for varying fabric weights is essential to my tailoring work. The Reliable is just that, reliable. The setup is easy and the machine, though technically not a portable, does pack up nicely and can be transported to a work site.

5. Serger

There are so very many sergers to choose from. The first question to answer when choosing which one to buy is: what you will mainly be using the machine for? Do you need something to efficiently finish seams? Or will you be sewing entire garments with it? Do you want a machine that also does a cover stitch?

The automatic rolled hem feature is game changing.

My favorite is the Juki Garnet Line MO-623 1 needle 2/3 thread Serger. The machine is dependable, smooth, easy to thread, and fast. The automatic rolled hem feature is game changing. As opposed to many machines where you need to change the presser foot, with the Juki, you manipulate the fabric with built in fingertip control.